Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)


Our Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewer: Rissi C.


Miramax studios have brought us a variety of films over the years, many of which are among my favorites. Whether it was the modernized Austen classic Mansfield Park, the enchanting Emma, the uniquely crafted Chocolat, or more recently the biopic of Austen herself in Becoming Jane, there were several costume dramas among them ranging from sweet to something with a bit more edge to it. “Bagger Vance” falls in the dramatic genre, but nonetheless still manages to enlighten its audience.


Some things can’t be learned. They must be remembered.


We begin as only a legend can be told … by a storyteller. An elderly gentleman is listlessly playing golf, dragging his golf bag along with him. He takes us back to the Great Depression and his tenth summer which turned out to be the best of his life. Young Artie lives in friendly Savannah where the Depression has dashed folk’s hopes and their very livelihood. But because of his fathers’ love of golf, Artie finds pleasure in the game and his idol is local “hero” Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon). Junuh left Savannah just as his golf career was starting to take off in order to serve his country in the war … he becomes a decorated hero, but being the only surviving member of the team he led, he promptly vanishes after the war.


Southern socialite Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) is from one of the wealthiest families in the south, but like everyone has troubles. She is determined to make a go of her fathers recently opened golf course, despite the local leaders telling her there’s no one wealthy enough to attend. Devising a tournament between great golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, Adele begins to convince the leaders that this can and will work. However they request that a local also participate, which leads to Junah who has just recently returned and also happens to be Adele’s ex-beau. Not very inspired since his return, it will take ten-year-old Artie and mysterious newcomer Bagger Vance (Will Smith) to bring Junuh around and realize his great potential. Golf isn’t my choice sport, there is something about it that bores me and whatever it may be nothing about it holds my interest. Picking this up at the video store, there were two things that prompted me to rent it, the first being it was set back in the 1900’s and the second was Damon starring in it.


While this has some slow moving sequences and its share of faults, it was a very good production and may find a spot among my small collection of sporting films. The opulence that this film is set among is lovely. During the few scenes in which Adele holds parties, the décor, house and costumes are all beautiful and made the scenes look exactly how one would imagine they might in the 1930’s. Likewise, the golfing sequences were well filmed and had their share of unique moments, particularly when Junuh begins to “understand” the game again. Something that just struck me about his film is that it seems to feel somewhat incoherent. While it’s put together well and isn’t confusing in the traditional sense, we are most interested in what occurs in Junuh and Bagger’s life, while young Artie gives us the story and is most always present, sometimes he feels out of place. The conversation between Bagger and Junuh are insightful and often time’s profound due to Bagger’s earnest observations about Junuh’s life, both past and present. The offensive content is pretty manageable, but there is some worthy of mentioning. Language is a factor along with a scene or two which takes away what otherwise would have been a fairly clean tale although the subject matter is for an older audience and most little ones would squirm throughout.


Drinking is shown on occasion, once a young boy walks in on a group of men drinking and playing cards, they proceed to have a conversation about how “drunk is too drunk”. Artie is embarrassed about his father’s occupation. Mr. Hagen is often shown drinking and is portrayed as a ladies man. A suicide is in the film, we hear the shot go off. When initially refusing the offer to play, Adele appears at Junuh’s home and offers to have sex if it would change his mind. She strips to her conservative undergarments and they share a kiss before she leaves (Artie is present and talks to his friends about Miss Adele having stripped to her “underwear”), likewise we see a young couple sneak out of a party; ending up in a room, they kiss and his jacket comes off, before the scene cuts away. Despite her offer to “change” Junuh’s mind, Adele is portrayed as nothing less than a lady albeit a stubborn, fiery one. She still has a great love for her ex-fiancé, but moved on since he didn’t see fit to write. Both Damon and Theron share some special moments right up until the final scene between them.


The acting is all top notch, particularly from the three leads. Smith gives Bagger Vance airs of mystery while still managing to be firm through his mentoring of both Artie and Junuh, and he has a pleasing personality that stays intact through Junuh’s fits of annoyance; which garners several chuckles along the way. Damon also gives a stirring performance as the war tormented Junuh; he manages to make us feel for him at times while other times making us dislike him for his mind-set. Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius I found this to be an interesting tale that follows a bit more of Mr. Jones and Mr. Hagens’ continued competitive sportsmanship. If you have seen the previously mentioned, enjoy the 1900’s or simply want a decent drama, The Legend of Bagger Vance is well worth two plus hours of viewing and not just for entertainment purposes, but also we are able to see some good life lessons learned by all.